Are American Airlines about to move out of their long term home in Terminal 3 at London Heathrow and shift operations to Terminal 5?
Whilst just a rumour at the moment, I decided to take a look at the pro’s, con’s, if’s, but’s and how’s of such a move.
This will never happen…
First off, it would seem a bit of an odd decision seeing as British Airways don’t have their entire operation in Terminal 5. When Terminal 1 closed in mid-2015, a number of their flights were displaced from there. In the resulting shakeup what was a short haul only operation in terminal 3 eventually ended up with British Airways being the largest operator at the terminal.
American Airlines doesn’t exactly have a small operation at Heathrow themselves. With the ending of the Bermuda II agreement in 2008 and the merger with US Airways plus general expansion, the London airport sees more American Airlines widebody flights than anywhere else on their network. So there would have to be considerable room in terminal 5 to accommodate them. So you have to ask yourself, if there was room why aren’t more British Airways flights under the one roof?
A reason for this is OneWorld. All OneWorld carriers are housed in terminal 3 at Heathrow, with the exception of, Iberia, Malaysia Airlines and Qatar Airways. This means one of the key features of the alliance, easy transfers between partner airlines, is kept in tact. Move American to terminal 5 and you’ll have easier British Airways / American Airlines connections. If you’re transferring from an American Airlines flight from JFK on to a Finnair (or even British Airways for that matter) to Helsinki, you’ll be taking a bus ride. Sure, you could potentially have similar issues when transferring between British Airways flights with the current split terminal layout but the airline didn’t just sling any old flights into terminal 3. They did their homework and chose the flights with the least amount of connections.
It’s not all bad news…
So far, I’ve focused on the negatives of such a move. There could be positives too. As British Airways and American Airlines have a joint venture, this essentially means that they are more closely tied with each other compared to their other OneWorld partners. It’s far more likely that you’d book a ticket through British Airways to fly from say, Paris to Dallas and end up on an American Airlines plane. If your arriving flight from Paris and departing flight to Dallas were both from the same terminal, it would make the experience far more pleasant.
Another rumour I’ve seen floating around, is that if/when T5D gets built, it could also serve as a satellite to terminal 3 seeing as the proposed area for it is closer than the main terminal 5 building. As such the current T5 transit train would carry on from the newly constructed T5D over to terminal 3. If American Airlines were to shift over to terminal 5, they could be entirely in the new satellite and it would only require setting up new check in desks in T5. Capacity wouldn’t be an issue in T5 if the new satellite gets built.
What about the lounges?
You could argue that American Airlines would use British Airways lounges in terminal 5. In theory yes, but they’re already overcrowded as it is. If American Airlines were to set up base in T5D, they would likely have their own lounges, seeing as they already have their own in terminal 3.
Heathrow doesn’t tend to announce gates too early due to them being shifted around at the last minute. If American Airlines was to be given sole use of one of the satellites, this wouldn’t be an issue. Simply print “D gates” on boarding passes. Therefore most American Airlines passengers wouldn’t be using the British Airways lounges, as they could head straight over to their departure area.
With all arrivals processed in the main terminal 5 building, the arrivals lounge will be a different matter. A solution to this would be to either share the current British Airways facility (after its had a much needed refurbishment), American Airlines to build their own facility or process American Airlines arrivals in terminal 3 via the proposed extension of the T5 transit. Then they would be able to keep the newly refurbished and very good arrivals lounge they already have set up.
Of course, all this is rumour at the moment. These are just my thoughts on what could / couldn’t work if it did happen. The original plan for terminal 3 was to be demolished by now, so all the airlines based there will have to go somewhere once it inevitably gets bulldozed. Watch this space.